Return to Righteous Living
Please read Malachi 3:13-18 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
Apparently Lou Nicholes has the best sermon illustrations: without intending to, I’m going to borrow from him two weeks in a row! He wrote: “I once heard of an agnostic farmer who wrote to the editor of his local newspaper, who was a Christian. He said, ‘In defiance of your God I plowed my fields this year on Sunday, I disked and fertilized them on Sunday, I planted them on a Sunday, I cultivated them on Sunday, and I reaped them on Sunday. This October I had the biggest crop I have ever had. How do you explain that?’ The editor replied: ‘God does not always settle his accounts in October.’” (Lou Nicholes, Word of Life Fellowship, Schroon Lake, NY).
At this point in Malachi’s ministry, the people were bellyaching because being obedient didn’t seem to put money in their pocket or make life easier. They were mad because people like the farmer in that story seemed to not only get away with their evil but apparently prospered. From a worldly point of view it made sense to them that God would reward good people with good things and punish bad people with bad things. Of course, they wanted to be the one who defined both “good” and “bad” in all cases.
The selfishness behind this point of view ought to be so obvious that it needed no further observation. The fact that Malachi had to address it again underscores how badly the Israelites weren’t getting it. In this section God had to adjust their understanding of what justice meant and that God could be trusted to act according to His definition of justice, not theirs.
Knowing good from evil requires knowing where you stand.
1. They needed to repent of false accusations against God. (13-15)
God accused His people of having said TERRIBLE THINGS about Him. (13) These verses are the last of the dialogue sections of this book. We’ve already seen God accuse His people of
…doubting His love. (1:1-5)
…neglecting worship. (1:6-14)
…ignoring His word. (2:1-9)
…being unfaithful in marriage. (2:10-16)
…questioning His justice. (2:17-3:6)
…stealing His offerings. (3:7-12)
After all that, perhaps you’d agree God had good reason to confront the TERRIBLE THINGS they’d said about Him.
Their reply, as usual, was to claim ignorance. (13) Come on: “Huh?” is not an acceptable defense!
Their complaint was that God had not rewarded them for their obedience. (14-15) If we’re honest, we’ll admit to having these thoughts ourselves. At times we have rightly understood that it is more difficult to be a godly person but have wrongly wondered whether it was worth it. (14)
Maybe you’ve been so discouraged by the apparent success and ease of wicked people you’ve agreed with the Israelites to chuck it and defy God. (15) When you see no benefit to being good and/or no harm in being evil, it sounds reasonable to do whatever you want to do.
2. Some of them did repent. (16)
In the only narrative section of the book, we see the Israelites demonstrated their repentance in three ways. First, they FEARED THE LORD. They believed in God’s justice and in His holiness. They trusted Him to do the right thing. Even though the consequences of their words and deeds may not reach them in this life, they knew God saw and responded. These people saw how we live does matter, even into eternity! This was the chief motive for their repentance.
Two, they SPOKE WITH EACH OTHER. I presume this means they shared their faith, they consulted the Scriptures, they encouraged and held each other accountable; all the things God’s people are to do when they are together. After all that, they were in agreement and, acting as a group, they repented. They accepted God’s offer of mercy.
Third, they prepared A SCROLL OF REMEMBRANCE to record the names of the repentant, the people who feared and glorified God. They FEARED HIM: people try to water down that word “fear.” They prefer a toothless version of God because on some level they realize that justice will demand more of them than they are currently giving to God. “Fear” means fear, especially for the unsaved and persons new to the faith. It never means “anxiety” or “worry” however, as the Bible identifies that as sin.
They ALWAYS THOUGHT ABOUT THE HONOR OF HIS NAME. We more often talk about giving “glory” to God than “honoring” Him, but it’s the same thing. “Glory” is a Bible word that denotes God’s presence. It is often described as a bright light. This means the people enrolled in the book paid attention to God each day and actively looked for ways to make God known to people; ways to show His presence in their midst.
This SCROLL reminds me of the BOOK OF LIFE; both of them record the names of God’s faithful folk. The difference is that God records the names listed in the BOOK OF LIFE, this SCROLL was written by the people.
God showed His faithfulness to the good people in listening to WHAT THEY SAID. Answered prayer is a promise God makes to His people throughout the Bible. It means God hears our prayers and responds to them. For believers, there is no such thing as “unanswered prayer.” That is strictly for unbelievers.
This promise is NOT a guarantee that God will respond to our prayers in exactly the way we might wish. God will answer in the way that is absolutely in our best interest, but He decides whether the answer is “Yes,” or “No,” or “Hold the line.”
3. God blessed them. (17-18)
He blessed them by identifying them as HIS PEOPLE. (17) This is the highest praise possible, the very best identity to have. This promise speaks to our standing with God.
He blessed them with a promise that on Judgment Day, He would count them as His OWN SPECIAL TREASURE. (17) This promise speaks to God’s love for us.
He blessed them with an assurance of His mercy: that He would SPARE THEM AS A FATHER SPARES AN OBEDIENT CHILD. (17) Mercy is offered to those who repent and respect God’s authority. If our earthly fathers are capable of such mercy, our Heavenly Father is perfectly capable of being merciful.
He blessed them with a promise that on Judgment Day they would AGAIN SEE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RIGHTEOUS servants of God and the WICKED people who refuse to serve Him. (18) This would be His final answer to the complaint made in vs. 14-15.
The thing is, the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED becomes permanent at that time. There will be no further opportunities to repent, no way to postpone or avoid the consequences of our actions and decisions. On that Day, perfect justice will be done and the scales righted. Mercy will no longer be available; it will already be decided who will receive God’s mercy.
Knowing good from evil requires knowing where you stand.
From the Encyclopedia of Illustrations (#6511), “Once when Calvin Coolidge was Vice President and presiding over the Senate, an altercation arose between two Senators. Tempers flared, and one Senator told the other to go straight to hell. The offended Senator stormed from his seat, marched down the aisle and stood before Mr. Coolidge, who was silently leafing through a book.
“’Mr. President,’ he said, ‘did you hear what he said to me?’ Coolidge looked up from his book and said calmly, ‘You know, I have been looking through the rule book. You don’t have to go.’”
You know, he was right! God alone is our Judge. He will do right, condemning the wicked and rewarding the righteous as He knows perfectly well which is which. Our part is to fear the Lord, do right, and support each other in doing right. Then we will be called HIS PEOPLE on the day that matters most, Judgment Day.
“Return to Hope in the Return of the Lord,” a sermon by Rev. Travis Peterson, delivered at Olney Southern Baptist Church on February 22, 2009.